Read The Life of the Mind Online

Authors: Hannah Arendt

Tags: #Non-Fiction, #Philosophy, #Psychology, #Politics

The Life of the Mind


Table of Contents

Title Page

Table of Contents



Editor's Note

One / Thinking


I. Appearance

II. Mental Activities in a World of Appearances

III. What Makes Us Think?

IV. Where Are We When We Think?

Two / Willing


I. The Philosophers and the Will

II. The Discovery of the Inner Man

III. Will and Intellect

IV. Conclusions


Editor's Postface

Appendix / Judging

Index / Thinking

Index / Willing

Books by Hannah Arendt

Copyright © 1971 by Hannah Arendt
Copyright © 1978,1977 by Harcourt, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced
or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and
retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work
should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department,
Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

appeared originally in the
New Yorker
in somewhat different form.

The quotations from W. H. Auden are from
Collected Poems
, by W. H. Auden,
edited by Edward Mendelson. Copyright © 1976 by Edward Mendelson,
William Meredith, and Monroe K. Spears, Executors of the Estate of
W. H. Auden. The quotation from Rainer Maria Rilke is from
Duino Elegies,
by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by J. B. Leishman and Stephen Spender,
copyright 1939 by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., copyright renewed 1967
by Stephen Spender and J. b. Leishman, and is reprinted with the permission
of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., and The Hogarth Press.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Arendt, Hannah.
The life of the mind.
Originally published in two separate volumes with
subtitles: Thinking, and Willing.
Includes bibliographical references and indexes.
1. Philosophy—Collected works. I. Title.
B29.A73 1981 110 80-25403
ISBN 0-15-651992-5

Printed in the United States of America

DOM 33 32 31 30 29 28 27 26 25 24

Numquam se plus agere quam nihil cum
ageret, numquam minus solum esse quam
cum solus esset.


Every one of us is like a man who sees
things in a dream and thinks that he
knows them perfectly and then wakes
up to find that he knows nothing.


Editor's Note

As Hannah Arendt's friend and literary executor, I have prepared
The Life of the Mind
for publication. In 1973
was delivered in briefer form as Gifford Lectures at the University of Aberdeen, and in 1974 the opening part of
as well. Both
again in briefer form, were given as lecture courses at the New School for Social Research in New York in 1974–5 and 1975. The history of the work and of its editorial preparation will be related in the editor's post-face to be found at the end of each volume. The second volume contains an appendix on Judging, drawn from a lecture course on Kant's political philosophy given in 1970 at the New School.

On Hannah Arendt's behalf, thanks are extended to Professor Archibald Wernham and Professor Robert Cross of the University of Aberdeen, and to Mrs. Wernham and Mrs. Cross, for their kindness and hospitality during the periods she spent there as Gifford Lecturer. Thanks are due, too, to the Senatus Academicus of the University, which was responsible for the invitation.

My own thanks, as editor, are extended, above all, to Jerome Kohn, Dr. Arendt's teaching assistant at the New School for his continuing helpfulness in resolving some difficult textual questions and for his industry and care in hunting down and checking references. And I am grateful to him and to Larry May for preparing the index. My particular thanks go also to Margo Viscusi for her saintly patience in retyping a heavily worked-over manuscript, with many insertions and interlineations in different handwritings, and for her searching editorial questions. I thank her husband, Anthony Viscusi, for the loan of his college textbooks, which much facilitated the checking of some elusive quotations. I thank my own husband, James West, for the windfall of
college textbooks in philosophy and for his readiness to discuss the manuscript and its occasional peiplexities, and I thank him also for his decisiveness in cutting several Gordian knots in the general plan and lay-out of these volumes. I am grateful to Lotte Köhler, my co-executor, for making the relevant books from Hannah Arendt's library available to the publisher's editors, and for her overall helpfulness and devotion. Great appreciation is due Roberta Leighton and her staff at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich for the enormous pains and the intelligence they have brought to bear on the manuscript, far surpassing normal editorial practice. I warmly thank William Jovanovich for the personal interest he has always taken in
The Life of the Mind,
already evident in his presence in Aberdeen at three of the Gifford Lectures. Hannah Arendt was much more than an "author" to him, and she, on her side, valued not only his friendship but also his comments on and critical insights into her text. Since her death, he has encouraged and fortified me by his attentive reading of the edited text and by his suggestions for handling the Judgment material from the Kant lectures. Over and above that, there has been his willingness to share the burdens of decision on some minute points as well as on larger ones. I must thank too my friends Stanley Geist and Joseph Frank for being available for consultation on linguistic problems raised by the manuscript. And, for giving a hand with the German, my friend Werner Stemans of the Goethe Institute in Paris. Acknowledgments are due
The New Yorker,
which has published
with a few slight changes; I feel gratitude to William Shawn for his enthusiastic response to the manuscript—a reaction that would have been very satisfying to the author. Finally, and
of all, I thank Hannah Arendt for the privilege of working on her book.


One / Thinking

Thinking does not bring knowledge as do the sciences.
Thinking does not produce usable practical wisdom.
Thinking does not solve the riddles of the universe.
Thinking does not endow us directly with the power to act.



The title I have given this lecture series,
The Life of the Mind,
sounds pretentious, and to talk about Thinking seems to me so presumptuous that I feel I should start less with an apology than with a justification. No justification, of course, is needed for the topic itself, especially not in the framework of eminence inherent in the Gifford Lectures. What disturbs me is that I try my hand at it, for I have neither claim nor ambition to be a "philosopher" or be numbered among what Kant, not without irony, called
Denker von Gewerbe
(professional thinkers).
The question then is, should I not have left these problems in the hands of the experts, and the answer will have to show what prompted me to venture from the relatively safe fields of political science and theory into these rather awesome matters, instead of leaving well enough alone.


1. Notes are on


Factually, my preoccupation with mental activities has two rather different origins. The immediate impulse came from my attending the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. In my report of it
1 spoke of "the banality of evil." Behind that phrase, I held no thesis or doctrine, although I was dimly aware of the fact that it went counter to our tradition of thought—literary, theological, or philosophic—about the phenomenon of evil. Evil, we have learned, is something demonic; its incarnation is Satan, a "lightning fall from heaven" (Luke 10:18), or Lucifer, the fallen angel ("The devil is an angel too"—Unamuno) whose sin is pride ("proud as Lucifer"), namely, that
of which only the best are capable: they don't want to serve God but to be like Him. Evil men, we are told, act out of envy; this may be resentment at not having turned out well through no fault of their own (Richard III) or the envy of Cain, who slew Abel because "the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard." Or they may be prompted by weakness (Macbeth). Or, on the contrary, by the powerful hatred wickedness feels for sheer goodness (Iago's "I hate the Moor: my cause is hearted"; Clag-gart's hatred for Billy Budd's "barbarian" innocence, a hatred considered by Melville a "depravity according to nature"), or by covetousness, "the root of all evil" (
Radix omnium malorum cupiditas).
However, what I was confronted with was utterly different and still undeniably factual. I was struck by a manifest shallowness in the doer that made it impossible to trace the uncontestable evil of his deeds to any deeper level of roots or motives. The deeds were monstrous, but the doer—at least the very effective one now on trial—was quite ordinary, commonplace, and neither demonic nor monstrous. There was no sign in him of firm ideological convictions or of specific evil motives, and the only notable characteristic one could detect in his past behavior as well as in his behavior during the trial and throughout the pre-trial police examination was something entirely negative: it was not stupidity but
In the setting of Israeli court and prison procedures he functioned as well as he had functioned under the Nazi regime but, when confronted with situations for which such routine procedures did not exist, he was helpless, and his cliché-ridden language produced on the stand, as it had evidently done in his official life, a kind of macabre comedy. Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality, that is, against the claim on our thinking attention that all events and facts make by virtue of their existence. If we were responsive to this claim all the time, we would soon be exhausted; Eichmann differed from the rest of us only in that he clearly knew of no such claim at all.

It was this absence of thinking—which is so ordinary an experience in our everyday life, where we have hardly the time, let alone the inclination, to
and think—that awakened my interest. Is evil-doing (the sins of omission, as well as the sins of commission) possible in default of not just "base motives" (as the law calls them) but of any motives whatever, of any particular prompting of interest or volition? Is wickedness, however we may define it, this being "determined to prove a villain,"
a necessary condition for evil-doing? Might the problem of good and evil, our faculty for telling right from wrong, be connected with our faculty of thought? To be sure, not in the sense that thinking would ever be able to produce the good deed as its result, as though "virtue could be taught" and learned—only habits and customs can be taught, and we know only too well the alarming speed with which they are unlearned and forgotten when new circumstances demand a change in manners and patterns of behavior. (The fact that we usually treat matters of good and evil in courses in "morals" or "ethics" may indicate how little we know about them, for morals comes from
and ethics from
the Latin and the Greek words for customs and habit, the Latin word being associated with rules of behavior, whereas the Greek is derived from habitat, like our "habits") The absence of thought I was confronted with sprang neither from forgetfulness of former, presumably good manners and habits nor from stupidity in the sense of inability to comprehend—not even in the sense of "moral insanity," for it was just as noticeable in instances that had nothing to do with so-called ethical decisions or matters of conscience.

The question that imposed itself was: Could the activity of thinking as such, the habit of examining whatever happens to come to pass or to attract attention, regardless of results and specific content, could this activity be among the conditions that make men abstain from evil-doing or even actually "condition" them against it? (The very word "con-science," at any rate, points in this direction insofar as it means "to know with and by myself," a kind of knowledge that is actualized in every thinking process.) And is not this hypothesis enforced by everything we know about conscience, namely, that a "good conscience" is enjoyed as a rule only by really bad people, criminals and such, while only "good people" are capable of having a bad conscience? To put it differently and use Kantian language: after having been struck by a fact that, willy-nilly, "put me in possession of a concept" (the banality of evil), I could not help raising the
quaestio juris
and asking myself "by what right I possessed and used it."

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